Olympic and Powerlifting — 3 Ingredients to Success

Olympic and Powerlifting

As a campus recreation professional, it is our responsibility to remain responsive and proactive in striving to meet the needs and interests of our students and membership. As trends like CrossFit, surfboard fitness, functional training and virtual fitness increase in popularity, we research and plan how we can offer to our membership. We ask ourselves specific questions throughout the processes such as: How will our community be impacted with these changes? What policies and procedures are affected or need to be developed? What training will our staff need?

At MIT Recreation, we have experienced increased interest in Olympic and Powerlifting over the last two years. Beginning in 2013 members began to request more squat racks and better barbells through the annual survey, daily comment cards and direct staff conversations. We also saw an increase in personal training goals of clients include learning and improvement of Olympic and Power lifts. We began to do research on equipment and facility feasibility to expand the squat and platform area of the Zesiger Center (larger of our two facilities). Through the process of incorporating Olympic and Powerlifting, we learned the importance of education, equipment opportunities, and analysis of our policies.


We realized the first step was to educate our staff and members about the difference between Olympic and Powerlifting. In a staff meeting, we discussed the three lifts classified as a Power lift (squat, deadlift, and bench press) and compared them to the three lifts classified as an Olympic lift (clean, snatch, and jerk). Staff learned that speed is vital for a successful Olympic lift, but not so much in a Power lift. We brought in two different barbells and everyone experienced the characteristics of a Powerlifting bar (aggressive knurling and stiffness) compared to an Olympic lifting bar (finer knurling with flexibility) to best perform each lift.  Finally, staff learned bumper plates are a must when performing an Olympic lift. By the end of the meeting each employee was able to identify the difference between Olympic and Power and lifts and which equipment should be used for each.

On the member side, we offered a couple of educational opportunities which were a huge success. During our winter term and spring semester we offered small group adult instructional classes educating members on flexibility, mobility, and muscle activation. These are key components to be successful when executing Olympic and Power lifts correctly. We also introduced variations of exercises (i.e. front squat, overhead squat, straight-leg deadlift). During spring semester, we offered 10, one-hour, workshops to members for free. The major lifts addressed in these workshops were squat, deadlift, bench press, clean, and snatch. We offered two workshops per lift. Each workshop was highly attended with greater interest for classes discussing a powerlift.


Through comment cards, annual survey results, and member interaction we saw a common thread for better barbells and more squat racks at both of our facilities. We are fortunate to have some competitive lifters with experience using a variety of equipment. Trusting their input we purchased four Rogue Ohio Olympic bars and three Rogue Ohio Power bars. In 2015, three additional squat racks were purchased for the fitness floors (one for our satellite facility, two for our main facility). To enable the addition of the two squat racks at the main facility, we did a great deal of research and spatial analysis resulting in a positive layout change.


lifting-workshop-flyerNew trends can cause friction arounds existing policies. Not long after educating our members and purchasing new equipment we knew we had to reexamine some policies (our bag, shoes, video, and chalk). Adjustments made to the policies were designed to support the squat rack area. Our policy prohibits all personal belongings on the fitness floor area as it is a hazard to other members and can get caught in equipment. We provided a space near the squat racks for powerlifting equipment, as lifting shoes, belts, sleeves, straps and bands are often used during a workout.

For the safety and privacy of our members we generally do not allow video and photography on the fitness floors. Due to the learning opportunity video provides, we have adjusted our policy to enable members to video their lift for educational purposes. Members are asked to ensure they are the only individual in the video and encouraged to utilize fitness desk staff for video assistance. Our training and coaching staff have also begun to use videos in their instruction for improved feedback.

Some policies we couldn’t compromise due facility restrictions.  In those instances, we emphasized education. We require closed-toed shoes at all times because it protects member’s feet from slipping, getting crushed by weights, and promotes hygiene within the facility. Another area is dropping weights, a common component of Olympic lifts, was causing stress on our facility. We educated our lifting community on how to alter their lifts to eliminate dropping as well as trained staff to correctly identify dropped weights. Chalk is a policy we are still researching to determine the best option for our facility and membership. As part of our research we compared local and peer institutes fitness policies to ours and found we were in line with the best practices.

As many of you experience on a regular basis, we saw a trend, did research, and determined (with some growing pains) how to integrate the trend into our community. We focused on education, equipment and policies when addressing the increasing trend of Olympic and Powerlifting and we will continue to address this trend on a regular basis as new equipment and facility opportunities arise. In campus recreation we balance offering the latest fitness trends, facility restrictions, and safety of all students, members and staff. We need to remain responsive to emerging trends by examining opportunity for innovation within our communities.


Katrina Ladd is the assistant fitness director at MIT Recreation. 

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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